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Missing You

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Dear Claudia,

I miss you.

Paris is beautiful, but not as beautiful as it would be if you were here with me. Sometimes I look out my hotel window and think Claudia would love to paint this, and then I get sad all over again that you couldn't come. Only another six months to go!

I don't know how I feel about this trip so far. Sometimes the meetings seem endless and frustrating, and with all the compromises we have to make I think I'd be doing just as much good talking at a brick wall back home. But other times we'll make a big breakthrough, get them to agree to something we thought they'd keep fighting forever, and then I believe we really can save the world.

There was a woman selling paintings at the cafe I went to for breakfast this morning. They reminded me of some of your work, so I bought one and hung it up in my hotel room. It's not quite like having you here with me, but it's better than nothing.

Please write soon.


Claudia spends most of her time in the postage-stamp-sized apartment she shares with Ashley Wyeth. Ashley can afford to rent studio space, but Claudia doesn't have the income for that, so they have an agreement; Ashley works at her studio, and Claudia covers their apartment with her work.

Right now she's focusing on pottery. She's pretty sure it's not what she wants to do with her career forever, but right now it's a lot easier to sell vases and bowls and cake stands than to sell paintings and sculptures. Pottery is useful, not just beautiful. And she's tired of making jewelry.

When she gets bored of throwing pots, she draws. The walls are covered in pinned-up sketches of anything and everything she feels like drawing. Sometimes Ashley will come home and point to a new one and say, "You should sculpt that", or "That would make a beautiful painting", and Claudia promises them both, once again, that when she's a little more financially secure she'll go back to making the art she wants to make instead of the art that will sell.

Every time Dawn sends her a letter from whatever far-off city she's in this week, Claudia reads it over carefully, three or four times, and then pins it up next to her sketches.

Ashley never comments on the letters.

Dear Claudia,

I miss you.

I've been taking pictures like mad whenever I get a few minutes downtime from work. I put a few of them in the envelope for you. If you haven't looked at them yet, do it now! Rome is gorgeous. One day I'm going to bring you here; you'll love it. You can take me to all the art museums and teach me about the things I don't understand.

Work isn't going so well here. The CEO is convinced that going green will hurt his company in the short term more than it will benefit them in the long term. Sometimes I just want to shake him and scream. Doesn't he understand it's not about how it will impact his company, it's about how his company is impacting the world? But that wouldn't make him listen to me, so I swallow it all down and try to get him to see the more selfish benefits.

I met up with Shannon Kilbourne last week. Do you remember her? She's a professional translator now, working for the US embassy. She asked if I knew how you were doing, and I showed her some of the sketches you sent me. She was as impressed as I was. She said she couldn't believe you weren't famous yet.

I miss you. Please write me soon. Five more months!


Claudia sells her work at coffee shops and street fairs and open markets. Sometimes she lets Ashley convince her to submit a sketch to one museum exhibit or another, but so far she hasn't gotten anything accepted.

"If you'd just work on producing something for a specific exhibit, instead of sending them whatever you sketched in half an hour three weeks ago," Ashley always says, exasperated, but Claudia has to pay her share of the rent and buy groceries, and she can't spend six months working on a painting that might or might not get accepted for an exhibition that doesn't pay and might not lead to any sales.

When Claudia was a little girl, she didn't imagine life as an artist would be like this, but hey, at least she doesn't have to wait tables.

She draws the places she sees and the people she knows, and she draws the places Dawn describes in her letters; she might never go to Europe again, or ever see East Asia, but she can imagine them as vividly as the bodega she goes to once a week, and she can put them on paper, and it's almost like being there.

But not really.

Dear Claudia,

I miss you.

I'm writing to you from Japan. I don't speak a word of the language except for what you taught me, and that's not very much. The company sent a translator, but he's not as much fun to hang out with as Shannon, and I'm always worried that I'm misunderstanding something or letting him misrepresent our position.

Last night I went out with David and Chris for ramen. They speak about as much Japanese as I do. It was a memorable experience. When I come home, remind me to tell you about it; I need gestures and intonations to give you this story.

Write me back. Please.

Only three more months!


Claudia sets herself up one afternoon at a coffee shop with some of her pottery to make sales to people looking to support local artists. While she waits for potential customers, she opens her sketchbook and starts drawing.

When she hears someone clear their throat, she looks up to find a guy with shoulder-length electric-blue hair and Celtic knots tattooed on his right arm. He looks like a college student or maybe an unpaid intern somewhere, and he's standing over her shoulder looking at her drawing.

She apologizes for not noticing him sooner and asks if he wants to buy something, and he asks if her sketch is for sale.

She'd just been idly doodling, a scene out of one of Dawn's letters.

He pays a hundred dollars for it, and after he leaves she just sits for a while, staring blankly at her sketchbook.

Dear Claudia,

I miss you.

Switzerland is a breath of fresh air. I hardly have any work to do. It's so nice to be somewhere where people are already getting it right. It's kind of intimidating, too; they're doing it better than we do! I have nothing to tell them, and they've got plenty to tell me.

It's also just a beautiful place. It feels so peaceful and calm. I can imagine living here someday, when I'm ready to slow down.

Before you ask, yes, I bought you a box of Swiss chocolates. But you don't get them until I get home. Consider it incentive to meet me at the airport. Not much longer now.

I have to admit I'm homesick. I managed to call Mary Anne a couple days ago and nearly cried. She did cry. Try to contain your surprise. I'm so glad I'll be back in time to spend Thanksgiving with Dad and Carol and Gracie and Jeff, and Christmas with Mom and Richard and Mary Anne and Jeff. (And you, of course, and your parents and Janine. I may have already started Christmas shopping. Don't tell anyone.) Don't get me wrong, I love traveling and I love my job, but I miss everyone. And it's just nice, knowing that I have a home to go back to.

And I miss you.

Can't wait to see you again. Write me back!


In the month leading up to Dawn's arrival home, Claudia works herself into a frenzy. She rips down all the sketches on the walls only to replace them with new ones. She starts painting again. She sells all of her pottery and then has to decide if she wants to make more or try selling her sketches.

"When's Dawn's flight?" Ashley asks idly over breakfast one day, like it's not marked in red ink on the one and only calendar in the apartment.

"Next Friday," Claudia says, just as casually, like she's not counting down the days and minutes.

She almost starts repainting the apartment, but Ashley points out that's not covered by their lease.

She can't stop thinking in what-ifs. What if Dawn's mad at her for not answering all her letters? What if Dawn gets back and realizes that what she really wants is to keep traveling? What if Dawn gets back and realizes that what she really wants is some glamorous, wealthy European who can afford to travel with her and who'll discuss ecology and environmentally-friendly technologies and things like that? What if that red circle on the calendar isn't marking a new beginning, but an ending?

Claudia sells three more sketches and worries.

Dear Claudia,

I miss you.

I don't know why I'm writing this. I'm on a plane, on my way to you, right now. In a few more hours -- okay, several more hours -- I'll be able to see you and touch you and talk to you, and I'll probably forget I wrote this and never give it to you.

But the in-flight movie is terrible and my seatmate is boring, so I'm writing you.

I'm bringing you Japanese candy, Swiss chocolates, Italian jewelry, and a Parisian painting. I hope you like them. I know you don't always like it when I buy you presents for no reason, but they made me think of you and I couldn't help myself.

I miss you. I can't wait to see you. I hope you want to see me too, and I hope you're waiting at the airport for me, and I'm probably going to be devastated if you're not.

Now I definitely can't give you this letter.

I love you. And whether you're at the airport or not, I'll see you soon.


Claudia gets to the airport an hour before Dawn's flight is scheduled to arrive. The board says it's been delayed another hour. So she's got two hours to kill.

She pokes around the overpriced gift shops for a while. She thinks about buying balloons, but Dawn would probably say they're ecologically unfriendly or something. She buys herself a chocolate bar instead and eats it sitting outside the security gate.

Then she feels guilty and goes back to the gift shops and buys Dawn flowers. They're cliche and boring and badly arranged. But they're something.

She sits outside the security gate for another half hour. Then she decides that the flowers are stupid and Dawn will hate them and she should throw them out.

She doesn't, though. She just sits there, with an ugly airport flower bouquet in her lap and her sketchbook in her bag, and stares at the people walking around.

Dawn's flight is delayed an extra half hour, on top of the hour it was already delayed, but finally people start trickling out of the date, and Claudia jumps to her feet, almost dropping the half-forgotten bouquet.

She worries that Dawn will be lost in the crowd and they'll miss each other entirely, that Dawn will think she didn't come.

She shouldn't have worried.

Dawn is Dawn, tall and blonde and tan and gorgeous, lugging an overstuffed carry-on bag with her.

Claudia isn't quite conscious of crossing the distance between them. The next thing she's really aware of is the sound of Dawn's carry-on hitting the floor and the flowers being smashed between them, and neither of them saying anything at all, and everything's okay.